Margaret A. Lawson

A main focus of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is to ensure the safety of the United States food supply.

U.S. agriculture is a $200-billion business, $1-trillion when infrastructure, land, and other assets are included. Annual exports total more than $55 billion. The U.S. is the largest producer of food and agricultural products in the world, with more than 500,000 farms; 6,000 meat, poultry, and egg-related establishments; and 57,000 food processors—including canners, dairy product producers, wineries, and other food and beverage manufacturers and distributors.

Restaurants, grocery stores, and other operations serving or selling foods directly to the consumer number in excess of 1.2 million. The nation’s farms, transportation and distribution systems, food processors, and retail food establishments are a vital part of our economy and are required for national security and health. The U.S. has recently become a net importer of foodstuffs, which for some may compound the concern with regard to the protection of our food supply.

Since September 11, 2001, awareness of the threat of terrorism to the U.S. has increased significantly, and the food supply has been identified as a potential target. Vulnerability to biological, chemical, radiological, and physical agents exists throughout the farm-to-fork continuum. An attack on the food supply chain could result in high morbidity and mortality, food supply interruption, and wide-spread economic destruction.

It is thus imperative that local, state, and federal food and agriculture regulatory agencies; producers; the food industry; transporters and distributors; retail and foodservice establishments; the scientific community; and consumers work together to reduce our vulnerability to attacks against the food supply.

FDA contracted with IFT to work on projects (task orders) in 2000–04 in its effort to defend the food supply. Under Task Orders 5 and 7 of that contract, now completed, IFT validated that Operational Risk Management can be used effectively to rank the risk of potential hazards in specific food/agent scenarios. IFT performed an in-depth review of the preventive controls that industry may take to reduce the risk of an intentional act of terrorism or contamination for specific high- and medium-risk commodity/agent combinations.

IFT is currently working under a second five-year contract for FDA, "Analysis and Review of Topics in the Areas of Food Safety, Food Security, Food Processing and Human Health." This contract includes three task orders so far.

Task Order 1, "Food Security Training: Course Development and Implementation," was initiated in September 2004. IFT assembled a team of food professionals from industry, academia, and government with backgrounds in food defense, food safety, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry, and processing. The team was led by Frank Busta, Director of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, a Homeland Security Center of Excellence.

The result was the IFT/FDA Food Terrorism Awareness Program, which launched a series of Food Defense Awareness Workshops around the country. IFT has conducted nine of these workshops, and three more are scheduled, including one at the IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo® in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, June 27.

The objective of the workshops is to increase awareness among food professionals about the potential for an intentional attack on the food supply and identify potential vulnerabilities throughout the food manufacturing system. It is our hope that participants become more aware of the potential vulnerabilities associated with their system and return to their respective businesses to assess the extent of such vulnerability, consider suitable risk management options for minimizing their vulnerability, and identify areas requiring specialized expertise for further assessment.

Task Order 2, "Analysis and Evaluation of the Current Manufacturing and Labeling Practices Used by Food Manufacturers to Address Allergen Concerns," was begun in March 2005 and completed in September. FDA relied heavily on the results in its report to Congress regarding the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. The advisory group was led by Steve Taylor of the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Resource and Research Program.

Task Order 3, "CARVER Software Tool Development," was initiated in October 2005. Its goal is to develop software (comparable to Quicken) for free use by the food industry to conduct vulnerability assessments of their facilities to assist in the implementation of food defense measures. The advisory group is being led by Frank Busta.

It is encouraging to know that IFT is actively defining our role in defending the food supply.

by Margaret A. Lawson,
IFT President, 2005–06 Technical Services Manager,
T. Hasegawa USA, Cerritos, Calif. 
[email protected]